Hello! Happy New Year! I hope this email finds you safe and healthy.
I’m so pleased to say WELCOME to the first 2021 Dinner: A Love Story newsletter on my very new platform Substack! I’m very grateful that you’re here.
Here are today’s Three Things…
1. My New Newsletter
I’ve written Dinner: A Love Story for over a decade now — if you’ve been with me from the beginning then a) bless you and b) you might not even notice a difference. (If you haven’t been around, here’s a quick recap.) It’s the same me, the same quick, simple dinners, the same way to access those quick, simple dinners — just easier for you to read, since now, as a website and a newsletter, it’s delivered right to your inbox.
Dinner: A Love Story is still free! But I’m also adding new, exciting, subscriber-only features for those of you who want to be part of a tighter-knit community.
The fun part is that this platform allows me to experiment with new ways to create content, so if you decide to become a paid subscriber ($5/month or $50/year) that means you’ll get content on top of what you're used to: additional recipes and subscriber-only access to live chats with me about menu ideas and use-what-you-have meals, reader Q+As, comment threads, advance excerpts and bonuses from my next book, TheWeekday Vegetarians, personalized book recs, mini podcasts, daily vacation itineraries, and more stuff I’m sure I’ll come up with as we go along.
For those of you who have been following my Pantry, Purpose, Project series during the pandemic, that will continue here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Writing that series has been one of the most personally fulfilling and therapeutic projects of my career. (Thank you, readers!) With the vaccination news, I was hoping our collective appetite for content that focused on comfort and connection would be waning, but if last week was any indication, I’m not sure that’s realistic. Anyway, I’ll be here writing no matter what, and it will be a very wonderful problem if I have to figure out how to pivot from that frame of mind and just focus on, you know, 10 things to do with that chicken breast.
Again, welcome to my new newsletter! Here’s that button again if you want to explore upgrades, or if for some reason you’ve found your way here without being a subscriber…
2. Shells with Artichoke Sauce and Spinach
It’s like the famous hot dip, but in pasta form and without the mayo and drippy cheese! (Not that mayo and drippy cheese are a bad thing, but, you know, it’s January and I have to at least try to sound virtuous.) Those of you who followed me way back in 2020, may recall my obsession with Amy Chaplin’s silky artichoke dressing, created by blending a humble 14-ounce can of artichoke hearts with scallions, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Much to my childrens’ delight (Abby, sitting down to arugula tossed with dressing based on it: “Is this that canned artichoke thing again?”) I’ve been directing way too much psychic energy towards thinking up other ways to use that technique, and landed on this pasta dish. The mouthfeel is all rich and creamy, but there is no cream, and the lemon and artichoke give it a nice brightness, a rare and welcome quality for winter comfort food. Even Abby had to admit it was a winner.
Couple things: If you’re like me, anytime I’m breaking out a small appliance (like a blender) on a weeknight, some weird instinct to minimize all other gear kicks in. In the case of this pasta, here’s how to manage that if you are similarly deranged: I used the same pot for both the pasta and the sauce, obviously. I used the same strainer to drain the artichokes and the pasta without a wash in between. I also used a rubber spatula for pretty much every task: for scraping down the blender sauce, as well as the rest of the stirring, tossing, and even serving. And this might not be realistic for your first go-around, but once you have a handle on the recipe, you can skip all the measuring devices. You know what a third cup of olive oil looks like, I know you do!
By the way, this is vegan if you omit the Parm. I love it when that happens by accident!
Shells with Artichoke Sauce and Spinach
1 pound pasta shells
2 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts (quartered, halved whatever), drained
1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot (or 1/2 small onion) chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
red pepper flakes
5 cups (or a few generous handfuls) loosely packed spinach (or 1 cup thawed frozen spinach, squeezed dry)
Parmesan, for serving (omit to keep vegan)
Fresh parsley, for serving (optional)
In a large pot, cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of pasta water (<< DON’T FORGET!) before draining. While the pasta cooks, add the artichokes, a little more than 1/3 cup olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to a blender or food processor and give it a whirl until it’s emulsified and saucy, about 15-20 seconds. You will probably have to scrape down the sides half way. It should be the consistency of super smooth, pourable hummus.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the same pot you used for the pasta, set over medium heat. Add the shallot (or onion), garlic, more salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and cook until shallots are soft and golden, about 2 minutes. Turn heat to medium-low and slowly add the artichoke puree to the pot, stirring until everything is incorporated. Stir in a 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water at a time, until the sauce is warm and reaches the consistency of your favorite jarred pasta sauce. (You might have to add up to a cup of pasta water.) Decrease heat to low, and toss in shells and spinach, stirring until spinach wilts or warms through, about 2 more minutes.
Serve in bowls topped with Parmesan, parsley (if using), and a drizzle of olive oil.
3. A Care Package Formula for 2021
Even when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic or a constitutional crisis, if you are part of the human race, there's a good chance you have found yourself wondering what you can do to help a friend or family member who is going through a rough patch. Somewhere along the line, I settled on a care package prescription that seems to feel right:
Book + Brownies + Facial Mask
It’s a loose formula, and sometimes I only include two of the three, but when executed correctly, at the very least, I think it adds up to some temporary comfort and escapism. (Not to mention communicates I’m thinking of you, which is, of course, the point.) You probably have your own recipe for brownies (and imho, brownies from a box are an A-plus option) but if not, you can’t go wrong with Alice Medrich’s iconic recipe or these, if your friend is a blondie person. As for the book, that’s personal, but the popular, gripping The Vanishing Half would be a good call, as would The Best of Me, the compilation of essays by the dependably hilarious and absurdist David Sedaris; or Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, by Bess Kalb, about the comedy writer’s relationship with her grandmother; or a beloved beribboned paperback from your home library that only you would know is right. For the facial mask: I steal them from my daughters who always seem to have a stash, but my favorites are from Burt’s Bees, Too Cool for School, or anything I impulse-buy for $1.99 on line at CVS.
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